James Joyce and MoLI

Sir, – There is something of an unintended irony but also perhaps exaggeration in your editorial (September 21st) welcoming the new Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI), located at 86 St Stephen's Green – where once James Joyce at university engaged in debate with other students.

For in 1901 St Stephen’s, the new literary magazine of that university, refused to publish an essay by Joyce (because it mentioned a book on the Vatican’s prohibited list) and another by his feminist friend Francis Skeffington. The pair then published them privately, a fact noted by Arthur Griffith in particular in his United Irishman paper, where Griffith used the refusal to attack censorship and to urge people to read the essays. Joyce later endorsed some of Griffith’s policies.

And that brings one to the danger of exaggerating Joyce’s alienation from Ireland. For Joyce remained closely in touch with Ireland. He appreciated Griffith, whose weekly papers he had sent to him in Trieste and who was the only editor to publish in full Joyce’s letter about editorial difficulties in having Dubliners published uncut. Joyce even met Griffith for advice when back in Dublin in 1912.

As it happens Griffith knew his own wife as “Molly”, a mangled version of which first name (later shared by the anti-heroine of Joyce’s Ulysses) is the acronym of the new museum.


Your editorial concludes that, “More recently, Ireland has shown itself ready to celebrate Joyce”. It is true that for years Joyce was neglected. However, it should be remembered that in March 1922 a member of Griffith’s Dáil cabinet approached Joyce about a possible special honour. Dáil Éireann’s minister for publicity, Desmond FitzGerald, who had been in London in 1921 to support the treaty negotiators and who would soon become the first foreign minister of the Irish Free State, called on the author in Paris and asked if he intended to return to Ireland. But Joyce wrote that, “I told him not for the present. One redeemed city [Trieste] (and inhabitants thereof) will last me for a few years more. He has proposed a resolution to his Irish cabinet to send my name to Stockholm as candidate for the Nobel Prize.”

In the end, the ostensibly less alienated Yeats bagged that prize and a seat in the Irish senate.

Joyce’s dealings with Griffith, whom he wrote received him “very kindly” despite Joyce having earlier ripped into a collection of poetry by Griffith’s deceased best friend William Rooney, are a reminder that Griffith was more nuanced than is sometimes acknowledged. – Yours, etc,


Professor Emeritus,

Dublin City University,

Dublin 9.